In an attempt to take the Bhutan-India friendship beyond hydropower projects, the two countries marked a new collaboration in the field of startups and entrepreneurship beginning with a summit in Thimphu last week.
The summit provided a platform to create a vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem in which the cottage and small industry (CSI) entrepreneurs from both countries could interact, exchange and develop inter-business networks and cooperation.
Indian Minister of Railways, and Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal headed a business delegation for the summit.
The minister who was also the keynote speaker at the summit said that the leap year marked the beginning of a ‘leap for the startups in Bhutan’. He said that by the next leap year, Bhutan would be known as the world’s largest per capita startup country.
Acknowledging the confidence and energy of the entrepreneurs during the pitching contest, the minister announced that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) would take 30 more entrepreneurs in addition to the five winners of the pitching contest.
The winners of the pitching contest were Bhutan Herbal Tea, Bhutan Organic Farm, Laykha Dairy Delight, Green Pigment Arts, and Green roads.
Besides opportunities for them to go on a learning visit to India, the minister also announced major deliverables.
The minister, Piyush Goyal announced that the Indian government already initiated the process to open new transit customs stations which were expected to enable access of Bhutanese products to both Indian markets and to tranship to other parts of the world.
He said that India provided both markets and served as a gateway for Bhutanese products to reach the rest of the world.
Applauding Bhutan’s initiative to bring railway, he said that the Railway Board of India had commissioned a survey to establish a direct railway link to Bhutan from the Mujnai – Nyoenpaling line that will provide a cross-border rail link between India and Bhutan.
Furthermore, deliverables include fully sponsored training of 100 Bhutanese trainers and entrepreneurs at the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India.
In light of the requirement of capacity building in packaging and branding, 30 Bhutanese entrepreneurs would undergo hands-on training at the Indian Institute of Packaging.
The minister also announced that India would commission a feasibility study for setting up an Entrepreneurship Development Institute in Bhutan. The institute, he said, would serve as a training hub for mentorship and economic activities.
The minister said that the CII would establish its first office in South Asia in Thimphu soon. The office is expected to provide hands-on training, guidance, mentorship and work closely with the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry for entrepreneurship development.
President of CII Vikram Kirloskar said that startups had been the indicator of the innovation capability of the citizens contributing to the competitiveness of the nation.
Economic Affairs minister, Loknath Sharma said that entrepreneurship, digital economy, technical and vocational education, ICT skills and fourth economy revolution found its place in the Bhutanese lexicon. He said that these terminologies would become prominent by the day.
He said that diversification of economy was an essential concept especially for Bhutan, a country which was challenged by a small economy and market, which was both against the economy of scale.
“With the revised FDI and CSI policies, I invite more investment from India.”
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said: “Although the two countries shared close ties historically, culturally and emotionally, there was no notable investment from Indian friends in Bhutan.”
Lyonchhen said that Bhutan was looking forward to impact investment to enhance B2B interactions between the two countries.
According to a press release from ministry of economic affairs, the meeting was successful and both the countries reconfirmed commitment to build strong economic ties.
It also states that the two countries agreed to designate and notify new entry and exit points at Jogighopa, Pandu, and Agartala to facilitate trade between Bhutan and Bangladesh.
In supporting the Bhutanese agriculture produce and CSI products by linking to large retail chains in India, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority signed a MoU.
Besides, issues faced by Bhutanese exporters and manufacturers were also discussed and arrangements were made to resolve the issues, states the press release.